Thursday, January 05, 2017

That was the 2016 that was

So where were we?

Ah, 2016. Something something terrible year something, but there's always interesting music around somewhere, whether glossed over, lost in the rush to get every demo out to someone or right in the centre of the conversation. We did put together an unranked top 50 albums of the year which we meant to expand upon but... didn't (and not just because we've already changed our mind on a couple of them, but we've deleted the master list now so there it is), but tracks are where it's at these days, so here's sixty of them as first heard over that most death-stealing of years.

A Tribe Called Quest - The Space Program
A comeback nobody really expected, and certainly one nobody expected to be as if they'd taken up not where they left of as much as at their peak. Phife Dawg's death and the outcome of "events" both gave its concerns different shading, but even in an unlikely-to-be-achieved vacuum the ease of allegorical flow and smart sampling stand out in a year where so many laid back. Yes, it's the only rap track indie whitey here has picked. Token to the last, that's STN!

Amaroun - Fear
Even given a couple of EPs under her own name in previous years, it's surprising Peckham-via-Northamptonshire's Jay Brown hasn't turned up on Tips For 2017 lists hardly at all despite the quality of 2016's three singles. Her cracked, warmly confessional voice unaffectedly spilling personal anxieties over synth-as-folk textures is worth your investigation.

Amber Arcades - Fading Lines
Annelotte de Graaf seems to have a coasting, coursing version of this whole dreampop thing down pat, chiming and surging where others might drift without letting go of an aiming for new spiritual heights. Glistening in the grit, the same-titled album didn't make half enough end of year lists.

ANOHNI - 4 Degrees
Hopelessness was full of moral gut punches, using queasy, heavy electronic textures from Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never to press home the polemical viewpoint of complicity within ongoing tragedy. Playing devil's advocate for climate change, it flaunts the triumphalism card in the face of ecological horror.

Arc Iris - Kaleidoscope
Quixotic to a fault, Jocie Adams' project tentatively separated itself from its roots Americana moorings and set off for a folkily psychedelic journey decorated with sawing strings, soaring arrangements and off-centre singer-songwriter expressiveness.

BADBADNOTGOOD feat. Samuel T Herring - Time Moves Slow
The Future Islands leader going neo-soul is brave enough a move without layering it against finding the space in the hip-hop influenced jazzers' most restless, slow burning meditative grooves.

Bat For Lashes - Sunday Love
The Bride's central concept actually hung together while making it possible to effectively separate the strands, as here where Natasha Khan's broken desperation against a driving drum loop either depict the titular character running away from disaster or acts as its own existential road movie.

Camera - Affenfaust
It's not surprising the Berlin trio have played with Michael Rother, but while the spectre of Neu! clearly hangs heavy they have their own way of evolving what goes on over the motorik beat, shapeshifting grumbling bass synths, guitars of various dispositions and a tunnel vision determination.

Cate le Bon - Wonderful
If any album of 2016 could be described as wonderfully off-kilter without patronisation it's Crab Day, the fried neo-psych beat being pulled out of line with a melody retained right at the heart even as it throws itself wilfully out of linear shape.

Christine and the Queens - Tilted
Alright, originally released in 2014 and translated in 2015, but it certainly found its metier this year as Heloise Letissier made her way to centre stage in a way you didn't think artistic minds could these days. Tilted sounds like all that hip pop that only people online liked in 2007 finally found its place, wrapped in a message of positivism for those who didn't think they'd fit in.

Colder - Goodbye
No albums in ten years and then three in seven months? Marc Nguyen Tan certainly isn't just offering anything up, luckily, hypnotic loops and an inscrutable message building but never allowing itself to reach release.

David Bowie - Blackstar
Not much more that can be added to the millions of words around the album and its underlying message, only to say that after the disappointing original version of Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) that came out in 2015 it was quite the turnaround that Bowie's expansive ambitions and the jazz musicians he recorded the album with found a natural meeting point after all, within semi-cryptic sci-fi explorations, shifting avant-jazz and that shift from restlessness to eerie serenity.

David Thomas Broughton - Words Of Art
Speaking of eerie serenity... not unreasonably receptiveness was scarce for a triple album, released in three parts on three different labels, of creaky Dadaist folk partly recorded in Pyongyang, especially as here when Broughton's familiar unravelling home truths are being counterpointed by the never knowingly comforting Aidan Moffatt. Their loss.

Emmy The Great - Algorithm
Emmy pretty much left London nu-folk tropes behind in favour of shards of sparse electronic backing and production playfulness, but while still sounding like her unfiltered emotive self like a ProTools torch singer.

Field Music - The Noisy Days Are Over
Came out in October 2015, but the album was 2016 and we didn't put it on the best tracks of 2015 list, so... Prince famously tweeted apparent approval for the song on release, likely admiring the ease with which scratchy funk is absorbed into the familiar harmonies and glorying in not wanting to get over it and act your age.

Floating Points - Kuiper Pt. 1
The single version, if you will, of the eighteen minute EP track, a muscular jam of a motorik journey whose surging synths and pulses make it ideal for soundtracking footage of late night traffic sped up.

Future Of The Left - If AT&T Drank Tea What Would BP Do?
Not the most consistent of Future Of The Left albums, but it's Future Of The Left, ergo it sounds like skyscrapers being bulldozed with a Geordie Sam Kinison as site foreman.

Grandaddy - Way We Won't
Lines like "as if they've never been away" are far too easy, but this sounds like it could have come straight off Under The Western Freeway and the year's other new track A Lost Machine would have fitted right into The Sophtware Slump's contemplative end, so.

GYTS - I Kick Higher Than A Child
Back in 2013 STN longtime favourites The Victorian English Gentlemens Club let it be known they were making an album with Bad Seed Jim Schlavonus. It finally crept out in a new, seemingly one-off guise towards the end of 2016 and sounded like we wanted it to, ie art-rock with a flick-knife in its back pocket.

Hilary Woods - Bathing
Now back under her birth name after recording as The River Cry, Woods deals in slo-mo, almost somnambulent noir brooding, hazy and fragile as can be, that sounds like it was recorded in mist by a lake at 4am.

Hooded Fang - Plastic Love
Venus On Edge was the album where Hooded Fang finally put it all together and made a consistent album out of their whacked-out dirty garage mania by embracing the fuzzy sci-fi electricity that remarkable dissonant guitar sound they achieve always hinted at. Listen to this, it's virtually industrial.

Islet - Cathays Terrors
The return of the most active men and woman in Welsh avant-indie might take time to seep in, but by then the broken parts, intrinsic melody, Emma's seductive vocals and jagged solos that help turn the track on a dime from floating to urgent will have seeped right in.

James Chance and the Contortions - Melt Yourself Down
Chance came out of semi-retirement only a few years ago and resurrecting the Contortions name gave this year's album more of a profile than his last few revivals, but in every respect it absolutely sounds like it's still 1979 and Chance is still in a gold lame jacket, wielding a sax like a weapon and attempting to start fistfights in a New York warehouse space.

Johnny Foreigner - If You Can't Be Honest, Be Awesome
Of course. Ten years in the title meaning of Mono No Aware seems depressingly more on the nose, but as long as they're out there throwing guitar parts and devil drums against each other in the hope, realised by unknown alchemy, that they might make some sense if only Alexei and Kelly can shout the honest odds over them there'll always be an England.

Kiran Leonard - Don't Make Friends With Good People
Odd album, Grapefruit - two extraordinary multi-part epics (the other, Pink Fruit, was in last year's tracks of the year list) and then a lot of filler. Still, Leonard's good at this mercurial stuff when his guitar picking gets into full gear and full bodied explosions can fade into almost ambient passages into something that sounds like an entirely different song while somehow keeping the underlying theme going throughout.

Lambchop - In Care Of 8675309
If you had 22, A Million on your end of year list - hey, we did - you'd better have found room for FLOTUS too, taking a mildly similar approach of feeding folk strands through software that divides it into fractured, electronically enhanced pieces, only with Kurt Wagner's love of southern soul and, even when over-Autotuned/vocodered/whatever, emotive voice remaining somehow intact.

Los Campesinos! - I Broke Up In Amarante
Of course. Where Sick Scenes goes after No Blues' slow emergence from the depths remains to be seen, but the signs are as good as ever - endless hooks piling up, indie-rock racing ahead of itself, lyrically the signature moves o melodrama to shout along to, unflinching bruised honesty and talking about 90s football while half-cut.

The Lucid Dream - Bad Texan
Attempting to overwhelm all in its path by just weight of guitar noise is an honourable pursuit, and few achieved it better than this seemingly never wanting to end bruising drone of motorik hypnosis, psych-garage insistence and when appropriate, just sending everything into the red.

Magana - Golden Tongue
Brooklynite Jeni Magana makes deceptively complex, subtly heartfelt and dramatic bedroom guitar pop that nods at Sharon van Etten and St Vincent without being anything other than her own woman.

Man Of Moon - Sign
They're not the most workaholic of bands, but people are being slow to recognise there's something afoot with the Edinburgh duo, who take after friends the Phantom Band in expanding on a motorik propulsion and picking up pushed along effects and psych-folk structures along the way.

Martha - Curly & Raquel
Nothing is ever that straightforward with Martha as we should be aware by now, but strip away the socio-political subtleties and harmonic intricacies and that's still a hell of a rabble rousing pop-punk hook and chorus.

Meilyr Jones - Featured Artist
2013 was an ambitious work that turned out just as hoped, synthesising regret and joy into a florid chamber pop melange. He should be Jarvis by now.

Meursault - Simple Is Good
Neil Pennycook never actually went away, but the resuscitation of his most famous band guise gave him cause to cut back on their last album's extravagance to the bone-level bitter quick of sparse soul searching that is neither the maximal last guise or the lo-fi electronically aided tearing at self that he emerged with. This year's album will be fascinating.

Minor Victories - Give Up The Ghost
Oppressive, like it's trying to work its way out of your skull by brute force of pushing alone, and proof from people who've been there before - Stuart Braithwaite, Rachel Goswell - that the shoegaze revival doesn't have to float when it can drill.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Jesus Alone
The story behind the album, or some of it (this is one of the tracks recorded before Arthur's death, making its first line far more unnerving) doesn't need raking over again but this track, Warren Ellis (I suspect) deploying every bass frequency he can to weigh it down further, continues Push The Sky Away's fascinating with electronic loops over plangent instruments and sounds like the coming fires.

Nico Mulhy & Teitur - Describe You
Teitur is a fascinating songwriter, Mulhy an inventive arranger, the result literate baroque chamber pop with peculiar charm. Listen to that banjo go!

No Age - Serf To Serf
Bracing two-piece noise just when we needed it. Sounds ready to trash the joint, but with laser focus.

Ohboy! - Carrot And The Stick
Essentially it's music about music, unashamedly indie at that, but the Sonic Youth managed guitar squalls, the classy chorus hook and the lesser heard these days false ending... they've got something, these.

Okkervil River - Call Yourself Renee
Talk that Will Sheff had dropped the rest of his band and mainlined Nilsson for Away was worrying, especially given The Silver Gymnasium's unevenness. The care taken over the shift, here the baroque strings and woodwind decorating the edges of a sprawling pastoral tale of romance and loss, assuaged those fears.

Oliver Coates - Innocent Love
Picking up where Arthur Russell might have left off, classically trained cellist cuts up the sounds made by his instrument into new electronic-influenced shapes that sound like pirate radio output or Matthew Herbert-like cut-up house.

Pavo Pavo - Ran Ran Run
Unfortunately their album didn't quite live up to the promise of its opening track, a stately weightless drift with harmonies and electronic shimmers that took up where 2007 Grizzly Bear left off. Then it turns into faux-80s pop, just because it can.

Peaness - Oh George
Another band not turning up on anything like as many predictions lists as they should, the Chester trio turn in a gloriously summer-infused harmonic surfy power-pop that's actually an anti-love song to George Osborne.

PVT - Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend
Nine minutes of undulating purpose and aggression from the Australian vintage trio, building from ambience to pulsing loops to something from the Holy Fuck school of sending vintage synths into battle. There's a treated vocal effect too, and it works for once.

Radiohead - Ful Stop
It's been a big year for the motorik beat, what can we say. Here it's taken to grander, actively menacing levels, the doom-mongering drones giving way to a clatter, a loping bassline and a swirl of effects before falling into a pit of horror soundtrack atmospherics. Thom meanwhile does what he does.

Rose Elinor Dougall - Stellular
Why be sophisticated indie-psych high priestess or playful electropop strutter when you can be both?

Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop - The Lamb You Lost
It's a wonder nobody thought to put Hoop's light touch strange Americana alongside Beam (Iron & Wine)'s flavoured croak before, especially if the result is like this ambulatory cascading emotional promise.

Savages - T.I.W.Y.G.
Even more than before, Savages aren't planning to take your shit, drilling its way to the earth's core in the rhythm section direction, reaching out with hope to touch the face of something bigger the opposite way.

Shearwater - Filaments
Jonathan Meiburg may have reined in his grandiloquent visions of late, but despite the unusual insistency of the rhythm it's still just about recognisable as his work for the passion and the inventive reach of its shifts and ambitions.

She Drew The Gun - Poem
Provocative in its imagery, slow burning in its restrained aura, this year's entry in the exclusive canon of spoken word verse that actually works when placed into a guitar-based context.

Slow Club - Ancient Rolling Sea
The Memphis soul shadows and unhurried pace gives more than a hint of the involvement of Matthew E White's Spacebomb studio, the countrified strut and sway is entirely band's own now they've grown up and taken responsibilities seriously.

Spectres - New Buildings
Not the noise-rock outfit from Bristol - take a wild guess how we came across this track - but a Vancouver band whose guitar squalls are very slightly more restrained, mining further the dark, messy end of post-punk in charging towards the edge.

T.O.Y.S - Liquorice
Finally a full-length, and even by the lofty standards of their EPs it succeeded in securing that spot on the dancefloor where the whirring psych keyboard meets the dark glam-disco rhythm section, irresistable in a way that's clearly not good for you.

Teenage Fanclub - Thin Air
Here isn't on their top shelf of albums, but as far as their craft of turning Byrdsian harmonies into pure spun gold this track is.

This Becomes Us - Painter Man Is Coming
If only Falco put the Christian Fitness albums on Spotify they'd be three from three. We'll just have to make do with Julia Ruzicka and guest vocalists' project, in this case Black Francis fronting the best Pixies track of 2016.

TRAAMS - A House On Fire
Not a cover of this. Instead, nine minutes of what TRAAMS do best - unstoppable rhythm, bass burrowing its way to the cerebral cortex, fuzzaway guitar attempting to restrain itself from being carried away too far, Stu Hopkins singing like it's the last thing he'll ever do.

Trust Fund - wwsd
We Have Always Lived In The Harolds was the sound of Ellis losing himself in his bedroom daydreaming, or nightmare forming, shambling and attempting in an unfiltered format, vainly to hold itself together just like the recordings with which he made his name so effectively.

TVAM - Total Immersion
Say this for it, it's nominally determinist. Joe Oxley does this whole thing of attempting to introduce broken dark electro to droning shoegaze landscapes far better than the vast majority who've tried can and it's difficult not to get lost in the hypnotic Spacemen 3-ish rotating layers.

Vanishing Twin - Telescope
This year's 'just because Broadcast aren't doing it any more...', the soundtrack for a fictional bachelor pad finds the route between 60s psych-pop and the Radiophonic Workshop's spare cupboard library.

Vienna Ditto - Ticks
Quietly and inhabiting their own headspace, Oxford duo Vienna Ditto put out one of the best, most intriguing EPs of the year of which this was the title track, taking after their self-described 'voodoo sci-fi blues' with a healthy/dirty side order of John Barry spy themes and cabaret flourishes.

Weaves - Candy
As we've already had more than enough far-too-long climaxes, some noise-pop to finish via the explosive Toronto band who seem keen on shaking their songs around until achieving disorientation, the better to attack with the one-two of Jasmyn Burke's threatening delivery and divebombing riffs.

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